Reminiscing about Film

My dad owned a Roliflex box camera which he would use to take family portraits. It was an unassuming package like contraption, with a pull out pulley handle on the side to manually move the roll of film over by one shot. It had a metallic lid that would snap open. I found it quite intriguing because it seemed such a novel thing to look down on a box and be able to find a live image floating there.

The second camera to make an impression on me was a Kodak. It had an inbuilt flash which was shaped like a rectangular brick, and it would flip open to become a make shift handle. I still remember that this particular camera used a proprietary roll of film.

My first camera, that I could really call my own, was a freebie which TIME magazine was offering through their in magazine annual membership forms. It was an unassuming unit, with no flash, and a very cheap plastic body. But it was quite dear to me because my father let me keep it for myself.

Film rolls would offer only 36 shots, and also demanded to be developed. There were no LCD screens that could allow us to review the shot and then quickly improve it.

Getting a roll of film developed from a family trip would be really exciting. It felt like a lottery where you never were sure what you were going to end up with. A dark photo where the flash misfired or didn’t at all. A blurry photo where the hands just weren’t steady enough, or if you were lucky and if you knew what you were doing – you could end up with a crisp well framed photograph.

I would budget 5 to 6 photos as mere wastage in each of my rolls, simply because I didn’t know much about the technicalities of aperture, shutter speed or ISO. I just would try to “will” a photograph rather than bother with such vagaries.

A fresh batch of photos from the photo studio would be a good excuse for the family to huddle together and pass around each photo one by one. I am pretty sure that siblings, friends, and many cousins from those days must have chased each other around the house trying to hoard the best photos for themselves or simply doing so to tease each other about some handsome boy or pretty girl that was in the photo.

On school field trips guys would often get their photo taken with a group of girls lurking in the background. Film and its development was a romantic endeavour that was a permanent fixture in most people’s lives.

Today’s social media trend has made photography into a bit of a gimmick that is dominated by narcissism. We take selfies, foodie shots, and a plethora of anything and everything. Back in the 80s or 90s nobody would have wasted a single shot of their 36 roll film on either of these things.

The romanticism of film has been lost, and replaced by a soulless digital camera that renders photos which are more readily available than ever to all of us. Yet this experience lacks the heart and sense of anticipation that I grew up with.

Families no longer congregate in the lounge to laugh, complain, and reminisce of a collective memory.

Instead of passing around a stack of 36 photos, we indifferently launch 100 photos into Facebook.

The sound of laughter has been replaced with “haha” and “lols”. The genuine emotion that bubbled to the fore as the photographs made their round is long gone. Instead we contend with handicapped comments like “great photos”, “loved the pics” and of course “wow” on our phones and computer screens.

Sifting through photos used to be something one did with families or friends. It would be a great reason to invite people over and relive moments. Today we share it with not just families and friends but acquaintances and distant relatives to whom we can seldom relate any true warm sentiment.

Rather than sit down and listen to someone recall their memory of a moment, we must contend with reading text that lacks a warm voice or a reassuring look. When we use to speak with glee about our photos you could feel your friend’s smile because it was right there in front of you to absorb. Now your friend looks at your photos and punches in a series of benign emoticons. It feels like a plastic reaction when compared to that raw and live emotional vibe you got to experience sitting across from someone.

Social media has connected us with so many people, but it seems we have lost or lack true companions in this crowd of virtual buddies.

That warm smile, careless laugh, and the ambience of our lounge — that private space is no more. We have been left with a “Like” counter and phrases on our mute screens.

I wish I had a physical photo of a photograph communal as we poured over a stack of photos with our loved ones sipping tea and passing around finger food.

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The Quest


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Jiû – long time

Jiu Long Time

Handing over the two kilos of hardbound paper didn’t bring me immediate relief but rather a gradual sense of lethargy.

I perched it up on the counter to make it stand up. I didn’t have to spread out the pages too much because the girth was already pretty generous.

A sunbeam cut across the room from the glass door behind me and spread across the glossy cardboard facade igniting the golden fonts of the title.

This was it. Adieu to my academic ambassador. I had spent the last nine months with an idea of what I wanted to do and forged it through countless hours into a hardcover submission.

I could only spend a little more than 30 minutes with it. I felt like a parent that spent so much time raising their kid for life and now when the job seems done you have only but a few moments to relish the completed task.

A long journey culminating in a brief goodbye.

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Stars in the Night Sky

When you look upon the heavens and see numerous celestial bodies shimmering against the night sky you can’t help but marvel at their sheer numbers.

Many stars glisten and twinkle against the darkness like jewels embedded in a black canvas. They burn and flicker with wisps of blue, green and red. These lanterns of the night shine down on us during our dark hours and are a permanent fixture in every turning night in our own lives.

What do we know about these stars? How do we know anything about them at all observing them from so many light years away, being as distant as indifference itself?

The truth is many of these lanterns don’t exist today and have long collapsed or are already burning out in the last phase of their existence.

Yet in our nocturnal moments they continue to exist as if still alive and ready to guide us on our own journeys. They help us forecast the seasons to come and serve as a series of jeweled compasses threaded together, sharing the bond of antiquity that strings them together across the blackness of our sight.

They exist only by the grace of their magnificent luminance that they bestowed upon their peers. Today we don’t see stars but their lingering radiance that still travels through time (and space) to greet us.

And what do we know about grand parents or parents that have ceased to exist in our lives today? Does their physical absence erase them from our minds and hearts?

The memories they left us or those that cherished them seldom let these people fade from memory or heart.

I was blessed with grand parents who held me as a child and baptized me with their love and attention. Yet I don’t possess any memory of a physical bond with them. A bond that could comprise of moments spent together in care, laughter, sobriety or reverence of them.

Yet the love and care they bestowed upon those that did have such a privilege has birthed so much light in those relationships that even today their memories serve me (at a vast distance) as guides on my dark nights.

They continue to exist in my heart and mind as part of the family I was born into or the chain of companionship that I now am a part of.

When I look up to the dark sky of time’s past – an era when I didn’t exist – I still see such folk shimmering brightly and reminding me through their stories of their legacy. Their stories and personalities pervade the dark past that I hardly know anything about.

I look up to them during my nights and marvel at an existence that although is no more, still remains immortal in our hearts and minds.

These are the stars that ground me and guide me on my way to making a legacy that could permeate my own death.

They don’t exist today, but their lives still shine beyond their demise.

They are the stars of our night sky.

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I really enjoyed reading this. You have linked your memories with this collective vacuum most expatriates seem to be living in. Very intimate reading.

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The Other Side

The Other Side

We languish separately in our discontent,
Yet all our moments flow into life’s portent,
Green our envy inside,
Greener still on your side,
The streams of our time rush down River,
Like charity returned to its Giver.

(Penned and Sketched by Mushhood, 17th July 2013)

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